Racing from your sofa

The Formula E season may be postponed, but Allan McNish explains how Audi’s work is continuing, and the sustainability lessons the global situation can teach us

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Parked: Audi, and the rest of Formula E, will continue to prepare for racing’s return

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Allan McNishIt’s a very difficult time for the whole world, but at the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler Formula E team we are trying to make sure we function as best we can.

Even though it’s an international team, spread through a few different countries, the limitations that are imposed as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic do affect our operation.

That said, we do try to keep things as normal as possible. For example, we continued to have our normal project meetings, but they were all done on Skype. Interestingly, doing it this way means it functions better, in some respects at least, compared to when we are all sitting in one room. Everything is clear and concise moving forward. And we have to move forward for two different reasons: one is season six, when it restarts, and the other is to prepare for season seven because we would normally be operating within our testing window.

In terms of our timelines, it has been a difficult period. We have just been discussing the ordering of various parts and homologation testing, but the parameters of this, like everything else, might change in the coming weeks. It’s an ongoing moving target.

These processes had all started to build up through March when the suspension of season six was put in place. We can’t let momentum slow, but at the same time, we can’t go testing anyway, from a practical point of view, due to restrictions on travelling and movement, but also from a regulation standpoint too.

We can only try to focus on what we are doing, and where we can try to improve our performance. From that perspective, there is a lot of work being done in the background, and the situation allows a bit of a deeper focus than you usually have in motor racing.

One problem you have when combining racing and testing, is that you’re going from one thing to the next – race to race, or race to test. That doesn’t give you enough time to absorb everything and reflect on it properly, maybe with the benefit of a fresher pair of eyes, like we have the luxury of at this moment in time. So, we’re trying to use this time to look at what we can improve for season six, when it resumes, and, at the same time, trying to plan for season seven and, ultimately, even further beyond that as well.

I think now is the time, from a team and championship point of view, where difficult decisions which go against our principles to race have to be made. They are also difficult because of how hard it is to estimate the endpoint of the limitations in place.

“It’s difficult to know when a green flag will fly, it’s out of our control”

Formula E and the FIA did a very good job with their decision on season six. With their statement, they were essentially putting out the metaphorical red flag to suspend the current season. Like in a real race stoppage, ultimately you try to rectify the situation as quickly as possible and get the season going again. But at the moment, it’s difficult to know when a green flag is going to fly, it’s just out of our control.

We also have to be sensitive. As much as we are racers at heart, every single one of us in the paddock, and wider motor sport, is not the priority in many people’s lives, and I include the lives of people in the team as well.

As an industry, we have to bear that in mind as we take a step back. Right now, there are bigger issues everyone is currently focusing on, and quite rightly so, rather than trying to get back to testing or racing.

It’s an interesting time we’re living through right now. There is a big swing in this period when everyone is stuck at home and looking for new things to do.

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McNish’s drivers have turned to the world of sim racing

From the drivers’ point of view, there are all the sim racing series that have suddenly sprung up, virtually overnight, which help keep us going in this tough period. And I know Daniel Abt and Lucas di Grassi love sim racing, so the new swing is perfect to keep them sharp.

But when the doors finally open we will be running out again, and there will be that thirst to get back to what we knew before, which we previously took for granted. Sport in general, and especially motor sport, will come back strong when the time is right for it to do so.

At the same time, I think we’ve shown our ingenuity as an industry with our ability and agility, turning our minds towards new solutions, and not just in a medical sense either. I think we’ll come out of it with a somewhat changed direction in motor sport, compared to when we went into this situation, and I’m sure there will be lessons learned from this period.

As much as we all will want to run out the front door for certain things once the lockdown finally ends, in some respects we won’t necessarily revert to the way we did things previously.

Taking video conferencing as a small example, I believe it will be improved significantly in the coming months. We’ll get to the point where we understand the benefits of it more. Also, the more people use these systems, the more they become second nature, and the more you question the way things were done previously. Then you won’t have to necessarily travel as much as you did before, which has a wider effect on potentially a large scale.

If I look at it from a racing perspective, and we are talking about Formula E after all, it is a fantastic example of how certain elements of technology can allow you to have a positive impact on the environment in the future too. Perhaps there will be some small positives that we can take away from this unprecedented period.

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